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Leona Helmsley's Estate Executors Get $900K Each

By James Fanelli | September 4, 2012 6:34am

NEW YORK CITY — The five executors of Leona Helmsley's $5 billion estate are getting paid a princely sum for carrying out the Queen of Mean's final wishes — despite protests by the state attorney general's office.

A Manhattan Surrogate Court judge recently approved the executors' request that they each receive $900,000 in advance compensation for their work overseeing Helmsley's estate and charitable trust during the first year after her death.

The pay period covers Aug. 20, 2007, to Aug. 20, 2008, when executors settled a dispute with two grandchildren omitted from the will, helped reduce the $12 million inheritance Helmsley left her pooch Trouble and began unwinding her vast real estate empire. 

Judge Nora Anderson signed off on the $4.5 million total payday on July 11. In her decision, she said Helmsley "entrusted her executors with an estate of singular magnitude and extraordinary complexity," noting it includes more than $2 billion in bonds, hundreds of items of personal properties and her hotel empire.

"The court concludes that the amount now sought as an advance is not startlingly large and is, in fact, modest when viewed against the backdrop of the mammoth and highly complex estate," she wrote.

Before her decision, the state attorney general's office objected, saying "the requested advance of $4.5 million ... is excessive and should be reduced by more than one-half."

The office, which regulates charities, argued in a June 7, 2010, filing that the executors' work continues and their actual compensation won't be known until the estate is settled and a final accounting is performed.

The office added that the executors appear likely to ask for more advances for their work after Aug. 20, 2008.

Under the judge's decision, each executor — Helmsley's grandsons David and Walter Panzirer, her brother Alvin Rosenthal, her lawyer Sandor Frankel, and her friend John Codey — were required to post a $10,000 bond against the advance in case some of it must be returned.

Calls to the executors' lawyers were not returned. The attorney general's office declined to comment.

Experts say wills generally stipulate whether executors can receive commissions for their services, which top out at 2 percent of the estate. Helmsley's will states that the executors should not receive commissions but are entitled to "reasonable compensation."

"The question is whether this is what Leona really wanted," said Herb Nass, a trust and estates attorney who has written about Helmsley's will. "I'm not convinced. The judge is convinced, and that's what matters."

"It's odd that they are all being paid the same amount," Nass added, noting that they all might not have performed the same amount of services.

Helmsley died at 87 on Aug. 20, 2007, and was interred next to her husband, Harry, in a family mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Westchester. The majority of her fortune went to a charitable trust whose mission is to help animals.

The hot-tempered hotel magnate had a volatile relationship with relatives and workers, and took some grudges to the grave.

She excluded her grandchildren, Craig Panzirer and Meegan Panzirer Wesolko, from the will. Shortly after her death, when the two threatened a legal challenge, the executors paid them $6 million to settle the dispute.

A few relatives managed to stay on Helmslely's good side.

Rosenthal got $15 million. He died Jan. 2, and his wife, Susan, replaced him as an executor.

David and Walter Panzirer each banked $10 million bequests, but in another bizarre stipulation, the will requires they annually visit their father's grave in the family mausoleum and sign a registry to prove it.

The will also made Trouble one rich bitch. Helmsley left a $12 million trust to her beloved Maltese, but the amount was eventually torn apart like a puppy-chewed toy. 

The dog's trustees, David Panzirer and Rosenthal, got a judge to reduce the amount by $10 million after a veterinarian stated that she would likely live only three to five more years.

Trouble died in December 2010 at age 12.